Why Esports Matter for West MI

The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) is partnering with Celebration Cinema to bring a new sport to West Michigan – and there’s a good chance you know very little about it.

On Feb. 7-9, the WMSC will host an esports tournament called Grand Rapids Rift Clash at Celebration Cinema GR North. More specifically, the tournament will be for a video game called “League of Legends” and feature high school and college teams from Michigan and neighboring states.

You may be asking – what are esports? And why should I care? Let me tell you.

What are “esports?”

Esports is a broad term to encompass “competitive video gaming” or the act of playing video games in a competitive nature, whether alone or on a team. esports has grown significantly in recent years in both viewership and sponsorships from those outside of the gaming industry, including academia. As of January 2020, more than 250 colleges and universities across the country offer scholarships for gamers to compete for their schools in esports, which has more than doubled over the last year. In Michigan, six colleges and universities offered esports scholarships during the 2019-2020 academic year (including Aquinas College and Davenport University) – and for 2020-2021, that number will more than double.

What video games are we talking about?

Any video game that has a competitive aspect or could be played in a way that elicits competition. Although most games released today have competitive modes built into the games, older games can solicit competition (for the more “experienced” gamers, think about hanging in the local arcade, trying to beat high scores). Some of the most popular esports game titles include “League of Legends,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League,” “Fortnite” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” This tournament features “League of Legends.”

What is “League of Legends?’

League of Legends” is one of the world’s most popular video games, in which during peak gaming hours, more than eight million gamers may be logged on at one time daily. In addition, more than 100 million people from around the globe watched the 2019 “League of Legends” World Championships.

Why is esports a big deal?​
As the saying goes, money talks. According to the Newzoo 2019 Global Games Market Report, the global esports audience was expected to reach 453.8 million in 2019, with the number of esports viewers globally growing to 645 million and generating $1.8  billion by 2022.

These massive viewership numbers are prompting large companies to sponsor these events. This year alone, the esports industry has seen sponsorship deals with companies such as Budweiser, AT&T, State Farm, BMW, Chipotle, Honda, Red Bull, Nissan, Nike, Louis Vuitton, and even West Michigan-based Herman Miller, who signed a partnership deal with a professional esports team. It’s especially intriguing for companies trying to reach Gen Z, since 76 percent of Americans age 13-24 play games online.

Why is this important for West Michigan? 

West Michigan has an opportunity to position itself as a destination for esports enthusiasts and casual gamers. Tournaments and esports events around the country have sold-out stadiums such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Detroit hosted a large esports event at Little Caesars Arena in August 2019 which drew audiences from across the country to view the action live.

In addition to the tournament the WMSC is hosting in February, West Michigan has seen other entities invest in esports in the region. In February, the Grand Rapids Griffins will host a gaming tournament at Van Andel Arena before a Griffins game. Some international corporations in the area have invested in gaming already, including Herman Miller and Haworth.

At the collegiate level, Davenport University and Aquinas College (where I am head esports coach as my full-time job) have created varsity esports programs with dedicated gaming facilities, coaching and collegiate scholarships. Western Michigan University invested $500,000 to create an esports arena on campus, and other colleges and universities continue to explore implementing esports programs. At the high school level, West Michigan also has seen significant growth, with East Kentwood, West Catholic, and Rockford building dedicated esports spaces. Other high schools meet regularly as esports clubs such as East Grand Rapids, Godfrey-Lee, Lowell, Sparta, Catholic Central and Loy Norrix.

How do I sign up my high school team or college program?

That’s easy! Click here and sign up today! Deadline is Feb. 1 to register your team.

Can I watch?

Absolutely! It’s $2 for a day pass or $5 for a weekend pass. Tournament play is on the second floor of Celebration Cinema GR North, with the college finals Feb. 9 at 1 p.m. in Theater 1 for a large-screen experience.

Photos by Adam Antor.


Adam Antor
Guest Blogger
Adam is head esports coach at Aquinas College and a member of the organizing committee for Grand Rapids Rift Clash esports tournament.

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